Title: “7 Woes on the American Church” 6 of 7: Flawed Psychology
Text: Matthew 23:25-28
FCF: We often struggle attempting to change who we are or how we think rather than realizing that we can’t change ourselves.
Prop: Because the sin problem of man is rooted on a level that man cannot affect, we must seek a changed heart, not simply a change in behavior or even thinking.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew chapter 23. Last week we looked at the second sermon in this miniseries entitled the 7 woes on the American church. The first 6 woes pair off in couplets, and so today we will look at the last couplet in this series, leaving one final woe for next week.
[Slide 2]To remind ourselves of what woe means I’ve had that initial slide up for you. I hope that has helped to solidify your understanding of the word. So let’s remind ourselves what the woes on the American church have been. To keep it fresh I have re-written them in a way Jesus might say them.
[Slide 3] Woe to the American Church, Hypocrites! You claim to have God’s good news for the world, but do not preach all of it, either because you do not believe it all, or because you have rejected the parts you do not like.
[Slide 4] Woe to the American Church, Hypocrites! You zealously spread your half gospel relying on methodologies and arguments of men to convince people to believe, when no one believes unless God gives them faith to believe.
[Slide 5] Woe to the American Church, Blind Guides! You twist scripture by inserting your opinions into it so that you can excuse yourself and others from following the law of God.
[Slide 6] Woe to the American Church, Hypocrites! Even when you teach others to follow God’s law, you make it seem like all God wants from us is blind obedience, when really God wants every part of us to conform TO Christ, THROUGH Christ.
[Slide 7] Today we will build on this concept of the deficiency of simply conforming to God’s law, as we understand that our problem lies much deeper than our behavior, and even our thinking.
Today Jesus will reveal what, perhaps, is a foreign concept to the Jews of the 1st Century… and what is becoming more and more of a foreign concept to 21st Century America and the American church. And today, by far, will be the most difficult of the woes for our church. It may strike deeply to long held traditions and beliefs.
I’m in Matthew 23 starting in verse 25. I’ll be reading from the NET again this week, but follow along in whatever version you prefer. If you don’t have a bible or simply want to follow along in the NET you can turn to page 1121 in the pew bible. If you don’t have a bible, we encourage you to please take the one in the pew. We have plenty of extras.
So what layers of sorrowful judgment does Jesus add to the Pharisees? And how do they contribute to the layers of Woe already laid on the American Church? Let’s not delay.
I.) External conformity to a standard of holiness does nothing to solve the internal corruption of the heart, so we must seek a changed heart, not simply a change in behavior or even thinking. (25-26)
a. [Slide 8] 25 – Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and the dish,
i. Immediately we are confronted with a word that we must understand in fullness. The word for clean or cleanse is treated in the new testament with 3 nuances.
1. First in the sense of something being pure, free of anything that may corrupt it. It is used to talk about pure gold, clean linen, and clean water.
2. Secondly it is used to speak of something that is ritualistically, or levitically pure. Things that are clean or unclean based on God’s designations in the Law.
3. Thirdly, it is used to speak of something that is morally pure. Free of sin or guilt associated with sin.
ii. Added to this the fact that the Talmud went into great details about not only hand washing, but also dish and cup washing, and you have Jesus making a slight play on words here.
iii. Clearly in the context he is talking about actually cleaning the cup and even, probably, the ritualistic cleaning of the cup.
iv. But is it sullied with the things that are ritually unclean or with dirt or food?
b. [Slide 9] but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
i. It is sullied by something that is neither food nor ritualistically unclean.
ii. These two words “Greed and Self-Indulgence” Are translated similarly through most of our translations, but there is, perhaps, something lost in every translation. The word translated here as greed means extortion or robbery, of which certainly greed is the source. Simply saying greed though lacks the violent force of the Greek word which is the noun form of the verb to seize as a wild beast. So this noun means pillager or plunderer. And self-indulgence means to lack self control or self-restraint. It means lust or intemperance. So it is self-indulgence but without control. It is insatiable lust.
iii. The two words used here are two nouns connected with an and. Although it is difficult to be sure, this could be what is called (hen- die- uh- dis) hendiadys. An example of this in English is if you were nice and Warm. Both nouns pour into one another. In other words you are not both nice and warm, but instead you are nicely warm or warmed to a nice and satisfying temperature.
iv. [Slide 10] So what do you get when you connect pillager and intemperate? A pillager than cannot be satisfied by any measure of violent and greedy gain.
1. A good illustration of this is the locust.
2. Locusts are not a specific insect but are actually a variety of grasshopper.
3. In their youth, they enter a swarming phase where serotonin levels within them increase causing them to enter into a rage state where they are burning nutrition at an alarming rate. They are drawn to one another based on that serotonin, but also are driven by their need to eat. They move around collectively searching for food, but all the while facing being eaten by the locust behind them.
4. This is what Jesus is saying is inside the cup of the Pharisees. They are filled with the insatiable desire to violently take from everyone and everything around them.
v. [Slide 11] But rather than Jesus actually levying a real accusation against the Pharisees here, more likely, he is using this strong language to indicate the depth of the wickedness and unrighteousness that is inside their cup, as they painstakingly care for the outside.
vi. Again Jesus is attacking, probably in combination here, both the Talmud and it’s ridiculous cleaning rituals AND their extreme external adherence to the smallest minutia in the law.
vii. The word picture is this…
viii. You see a man scrubbing until his hands bleed, over and over this cup and dish. Following to the exact letter and specification of human tradition exactly how a cup should be washed… on the outside.
ix. He puts the dish in the rack to dry, and inside it still bears the rotting food of a hundred previous meals.
x. Jesus actually conflates the issue here on purpose.
xi. At first he is talking about ritual cleansing of cups and dishes, but quickly transitions to moral impurity and wickedness. He uses every nuance of the word “cleanse” in this one illustration.
xii. He does this to drive home a point. That their avoidance of the ritualistically unclean without recognizing uncleanness of a similar kind that they could not purify, has shown that they are what?
c. [Slide 12] 26 - Blind Pharisee!
i. We should not get hung up on the fact that Jesus singles out one Pharisee. This is actually a method of argument. It sharpens the accusation, but does not mean that he isn’t talking to all the Pharisees.
ii. And what is His accusation? That they are blind.
iii. This is not the first time he has called them blind.
iv. They cannot see their own hypocrisy. They are ignorant of their dilemma.
v. But all the while they insist they can see. And not only can they see, but they are guides for the blind.
vi. If they had only been able to understand that they were blind themselves, they might have come to the Lord and asked to see.
vii. Jesus gives instruction now about how to purify the uncleanness of a cup.
d. [Slide 13] First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside may become clean too!
i. Some translations have “and dish” included. For a couple reasons it probably should be omitted, but it is not a huge issue if it is included. If you are interested as to why it is omitted you can talk to me later.
ii. Now I am the dish washer in my home. I can confidently tell you that if you only wash the inside of a cup that does not guarantee that the outside magically becomes clean.
iii. We have to remember that Jesus has intentionally conflated the language.
iv. Cup is obviously talking about the Pharisees. And if they were to purify themselves of wickedness, then there would be no need to purify themselves of ritual uncleanness.
v. Have you ever stopped to wonder why we don’t practice the laws of ritualistic purity as New Covenant believers?
vi. Why is it that God tells Peter that he has cleansed the animals? Why don’t we practice the sacrifices? Why aren’t women unclean when they menstruate and have to wait 7 days before they are clean? I can’t remember the last time someone brought two turtle doves to me? That is a joke based on Leviticus 15… I didn’t say it was a good joke!!!
vii. Jesus is conflating purity laws and moral laws here. Could it be that once a person is truly clean on the inside, that the purity laws, laws that communicate man’s separation from God… Are done away with?
viii. Could there be a way of becoming more pure than the purity laws could ever make you?
ix. I would say that is exactly what Jesus is teaching.
x. And if any Pharisee was listening… it would have blown their minds, if they had understood it.
e. [Slide 14] Passage Truth: So if we are breaking this down to the simplest point of what Jesus is teaching to his disciples and what Matthew is teaching to the Jews reading his gospel, it would be that the Pharisees’ teachings and philosophy behind that teaching emphasized the observance of external ritual purity laws assuming that it would draw them closer to God. For this they would be condemned. Why? Because striving for external ritual purity has no effect on their internal moral impurity.
f. Passage Application: Jesus’ application to the crowd is the same as it always has been. Don’t mimic them. Don’t follow their example. Specifically, clean the inside of sin first, and the outside will be ritualistically clean by default.
g. [Slide 15] Broader Biblical Truth: Zooming out to catch the fullness of revelation, we can broaden Jesus’ teaching to the simple truth that External conformity to a standard of holiness does nothing to solve the internal corruption of the heart.
h. Broader Biblical Application: And the broader biblical application of this is almost the same as it was to the original hearers. Stop focusing on cleaning the outside, when it is the inside that is the greater concern. We must seek a changed heart, not simply a change in behavior or even thinking.
[Slide 16 (blank)] So Jesus graphically and in no uncertain terms, describes the foolishness of the teaching of the Pharisees. And these were the best the Jews had to offer. And the Jews as a whole were the best the world had to offer. And all mankind is trapped in this lie that changing behavior or thinking can ultimately affect the internal person. But what is the result of focusing on external purity? What does it lead to?
II.) The heart of natural man is desperately wicked and unacceptable to God, so we must seek a changed heart, not simply a change in behavior or even thinking. (27-28)
a. [Slide 17] 27 – Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like white washed tombs that look beautiful on the outside
i. This woe separates itself from the previous one, in that it is not just the practice of focusing on ritualistic purity that is condemned. But it is also the result of that focus that is condemned as well.
ii. What is that result?
iii. Jesus introduces a simile to help understand the result.
iv. He says they are like white washed tombs that look beautiful on the outside. What is this talking about?
1. Every year on the 15th of Nissan, the first month of the Jewish calendar, Jerusalem would be abuzz with travelers from all over Judea who were coming to celebrate Passover. Which in our text, is only days away.
2. Now there were no cemeteries necessarily where lots of people were buried. Sometimes graves were in fields and sometimes were even unmarked.
3. According to Numbers 19, for a Jew to touch a dead body or the grave of a dead body, would make them ceremonially unclean for 7 days.
4. Since Passover only lasts 8 days, this would eliminate any possibility of being able to celebrate Passover.
5. So to help people not from Jerusalem avoid the graves, on the 15th of Adar, the last month of the year, Jews from Jerusalem would go out and paint their ancestors and dead loved one’s graves with a white wash to indicate that this was a grave so people could avoid it. This would give them plenty of time to become “clean” again before the Passover celebration began, while also preventing people from touching the graves and becoming unclean.
6. So as Jesus is speaking, Jerusalem sparkles and flashes from afar with these white washed tombs that have received a fresh coat of paint only a couple weeks before.
v. Jesus also calls them beautiful to look at. So not only is the outside of the grave kept up on, but for the wealthy, it is also beautifully adorned. In 1st Century Israel they also had bone boxes that were usually ornately made that held the bones of dead relatives.
vi. So what is Jesus’ simile saying about the Pharisees so far? What is the result of their external ritual purity adherence?
vii. Externally, because they focused on the minutest details of the law and their traditions, they looked to be the gold standard for Yahwehism. Conscientious about the purity laws and beautifully cared for. But because, as Jesus revealed earlier, no amount of external attention can ever reach the underlying problem…
b. [Slide 18] But inside are full of the bones of the dead and of everything unclean.
i. Coffins hold bones. That is what they do.
ii. And it doesn’t matter how pretty you make them, it won’t change the fact that inside they contain rot. Inside is garbage. Inside is decay. The husk of something that was once alive. And in that rot and decay you can’t have a more devastating picture of the effect of sin.
iii. All things rot, all things decay, all things die, all things expire because of sin.
iv. And as we said, dead bodies were ritualistically unclean.
v. But don’t miss what else Jesus says.
vi. Not only are they white washed tombs full of dead men’s bones… but of everything unclean.
vii. The whole list of unclean things is found in these tombs.
viii. How is that so? How can that be?
c. [Slide 19] 28 – In the same way, on the outside you look righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
i. Again, Jesus conflates His argument. He not only says that they are unclean to the greatest degree possible inside.
ii. But then equates being totally ritualistically unclean inside with being totally lawless. Totally hypocritical. Inside.
iii. They are full of lies and rebellion, on the inside.
iv. How did this happen?
v. Is Jesus just talking about how terrible the Pharisees and Scribes are on the inside – or is he making a grander point? Remember… there are few if any Pharisees and scribes there, and His audience is the crowds and disciples… which Matthew was careful to point out.
vi. I don’t believe there is any question, Jesus is speaking beyond the Pharisees, to 1st Century Judaism in general. And His message is clear. Not only are they totally ritualistically unclean, but they are also totally sinful and wicked.
vii. There is no solution for death friends. You can clean the body, you can inject chemicals to brighten the color and even warm up the body to look and feel alive. But ultimately, you can do nothing to undo death.
viii. And just like they were full of death, so they are full of wickedness. Spiritual death. Death that could never be undone by any power they possessed..
d. [Slide 20] Passage Truth: Since external conformity to a standard of holiness does nothing to solve the internal corruption of the heart, the result of their focusing on external ritual purity was that the inside remained the same as it always had been. Nothing had changed. They were still as impure as they ever were on the inside and no matter how beautiful or righteous they looked, they were still lawless.
e. Passage Application: Jesus’ application from the last woe to this one is the same. Do not mimic the Pharisees. Clean out the rot on the inside first and then the outside will be clean also.
f. [Slide 21] Broader Biblical Truth: So to broaden the biblical truth out to what is a devastating truth, the heart of natural man is desperately wicked and is unable to pursue God.
g. Broader Biblical Application: The application then is the same as before. We must seek a changed heart, not simply a change in behavior or even thinking.
[Slide 22 (blank)] So how does this apply to us today? What woes does this introduce upon the American church?
Mankind tracing all the way back to Ancient Greece, even predating Christ by as much as 500 years, has been most concerned with the study of the soul of man. Who man is in the inner self. The Greek word for soul is yuch (psoo- chay), or as it would be transliterated in to English – p-s-y-c-h.
Psych – This is where we get our word psychology. Ology is a suffix to describe a form of study. So putting the two together, psychology is the study of man’s soul or inner being.
Of course psychology today has nothing to do with the soul because mankind denies that any spiritual nature of a man exists. Secular humanism has all but destroyed the notion or need for any metaphysical plane of existence. And anything that cannot be explained is renamed and reworded so that God has no place.
And godless men sit in rooms with people and tell them that they are a professional studier of the human soul. But by rejecting God, they insure that they have a flawed view of the human soul.
But the truth is that mankind has always had a flawed perspective on the soul of man. Since the garden. When that snake, that murderer, that viper lied to Eve and said that she wouldn’t die, and that she’d be like the most high… the truth of course was that she was already made in the image of the Most High. But right away, the nature of the soul of man was twisted. Before the fall Eve was convinced that she lacked something on the soul level. How curious to think that on this side of Eden we have been convinced we lack nothing on the soul level.
Our psychology is flawed my friends. Our understanding of our souls is flawed. And that is the nature of the fifth and sixth woe on the American Church.
[Slide 23] The fifth woe on the American church is:
It passionately teaches that the problem of mankind exists on a behavioral and intellectual level.
If we could give enough we could stop poverty. If we could make enough laws we could end drug addiction. If we could stand up and fight enough we could stop racism. If we could speak loud enough we could end sexism.
If only we were convincing enough, we could change the minds of young mothers so they would carry their babies to term. If we could only help people to understand truth we could keep them from sexual perversion.
If we had the right president, with the right party, with the right judges… if prayer were in schools, if drunkenness were illegal…
If we could only change the behavior of men to conform to the law of God, if we could only convince men that this was the better way of doing things… then all the ills of this world would go away and life would be more like heaven will be. And Jesus will come down and say, welp nothing to do here – thanks church!
If we could only clean the outside of the cup well enough – the inside will be clean as well.
It is a misunderstanding to devastating proportions of the exact nature of the soul of mankind.
The American church does not understand the nature of man, and therefore they are ineffective at ministering to the needs of man. They have combined teachings of ungodly people to attempt to clean the thinking and actions of people. With a little bit of Jesus, all the problems of the world can go away.
But this goes beyond how the church perceives societal problems and even more egregiously, it infects the church’s role and effect on each individual soul.
As we hinted at before in the second woe, we have believed for some time that man’s effort to win the lost is absolutely necessary to see souls saved. Our effort, our money, our time. Camps and rallies, tent meetings and revivals all geared at convincing men on a thought and behavioral level that they need Jesus.
But let me ask you something. Is it possible to convince someone to think the right thing about Jesus and act according to that thought process and for them to still be unsaved?
James says that demons believe and tremble. They think the right thing about Jesus and based on that belief they fear Him. Is it possible for someone to believe with their mind that Jesus is who He says He is and to submit to all the expectations of a Christian, yet still be lost?
We know this is possible friends- at least, for a time. How do we know? Why does the process of church discipline end in treating someone as unsaved? Why does Jesus talk about 4 seeds only 1 producing fruit but 3 producing signs of life? Why does Jesus talk about the weeds and wheat growing together and only being sorted when the harvest comes? Why does Jesus say that there are clean and unclean fish caught in the net and the unclean would be cast back into the sea? Why does Jesus tell Nichodemas, a Pharisee, that in order to enter the Kingdom it would take a rebirth!?
Do you believe that salvation is, in total, a gift from God? If it is, then changing the thoughts of men to think the right thing and changing the actions of men to do the right thing… is not a guarantee that God has given the person a gift of salvation.
Washing the thoughts in their head and the actions of their hands does not force God to gift anything to anyone.
And that leads us to the sixth woe on the American Church.
[Slide 24] The sixth woe on the American church is:
In teaching that mankind can be saved by changing their thoughts and actions, it has sent many to hell who thought they were bound for heaven.
New Birth, becoming a new creation, is only accomplished on the level of the soul. And for all the efforts of the Pharisees to wash themselves, to think the right things and to do the right things, they were not able to change what was in their hearts… because it was dead. And no one can bring back the dead from dry bones.
Isn’t there a story about a field of dead soldiers that were reduced to dry bones? Isn’t there a story where God sent His prophet to this field and God put flesh back on them and raised them to life?
The church of America… and perhaps this church too, needs to be given spiritual understanding and insight on this matter.
There is nothing that you and I can do to save someone. We can’t even lead them to Christ. We can’t win their soul. We can’t convince them they need Jesus on a soul level. We can’t shame them enough to change their behavior to the point that their soul changes.
Jesus tells His disciples to make disciples. He tells us to go and preach the gospel. He doesn’t tell us to win souls. He doesn’t tell us to lead people to Christ. He doesn’t tell us to make converts. That is His job. Exclusively. Because only HE can do it.
[Slide 25] A man does not become a Christian by making a decision. He is made a Christian by God, who had marked him out before the foundation of the world and sees to it that he is born again and that he believes in Him. – D. Martin Lloyd Jones
We are called to bear witness to what God has already done for us on a soul level. How he has made us new. How we have seen the POWER of God unto salvation. That He has given us faith to believe and we have believed and with His faith He has made us new.
An evangelist is not someone who preaches to make people feel guilty of their sin. An evangelist is not someone who preaches to make people think differently about Jesus. An Evangelist is not a person who communicates on the physical level at all. An evangelist is simply telling people that there is a God who is able to raise men from Spiritual death to life. And if a man is to be raised to life, it is not his words that force God to act, but it is purely a divine act of love and mercy by which God draws men to Himself and breathes new life into them.
We must get this through our heads in the American Church. God does not need us. The same God who trimmed Gideon’s army to 300, just to prove He didn’t need Gideon, is at work to save the souls of men. And He no more needs us to do that then He needed Gideon.
And with the knowledge that God does the work in the hearts of men, comes an overwhelming sense of comfort. A weight is lifted from our shoulders. Because if it was up to us to convince every man everywhere that they need to abandon their sin and their lives and surrender it all to Jesus, if it were truly up to men to be saved and to lead others to salvation, then what an overwhelming weight of burden it would be when we fail. And what an overwhelming sense of pride it would be when we succeed. But only God can raise the dead to life.
And some may object, that with such a teaching there is absolutely no need to evangelize. If God will save men, why must we evangelize? If God will do as His will pleases, why pray. If God has all this programed, why do anything?
A wise man once said “I used to ask God to help me. Then I asked if I might help Him. I ended up by asking Him to do His work through me.”
Why do we evangelize if God will save them? For His glory friends. Because He told us to. And because He graciously gives us the opportunity to be used in His work.
[Slide 26] By the way, the man who said that was Hudson Taylor… missionary to China.
Much like the children of Israel were told that the land of Canaan was theirs, and that God would go before them and lead them to victory, we are told to go and make disciples of those whom the Lord is bringing to life. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. And he tells us to go make disciples of those whom He found and teach them to observe all things He commanded. And we can be like the children of Israel, and see the giants and the problems before us, or we can trust the Lord and see Him use our petty and broken words to draw men unto Himself, for His glory.
Evangelism begins and ends on our knees. Begging the Lord to do a work of power as we set out to be ambassadors of His Kingdom in word and deed.
[Slide 27 (end)] Both of these woes boil down to one specific application. An application which Jesus was trying desperately, His whole ministry, to get the crowds and His disciples to see. And it is simply this. Mankind needs a new heart. Not better behavior. Not right thinking or feeling. Those things would come – they would be cleaned… but only if inside was cleaned first. But how does a dead man become alive? How does someone purify his soul? How can someone be born a second time?
A new heart, a new life, and purity of every kind can only come from God. And He promises that those who tirelessly seek will find, those who relentlessly knock, the door will be opened, those who persistently ask… it will be given. Not because we have been asking… but because the persistence of our pursuit of Him can only mean that we are being made alive.